I had a bad file on my Maxtor OneTouch drive so I ran XP's error correction tool on the drive. But since then the laptop to which I usually connect the drive slowed down drastically to a point where the laptop was rendered useless and a source of noise as well (it's two fans were on all the time).
Typical solutions on XP slowdown didn't fix the problem but, when pulled the drive as well as the USB adapter (the laptop came with only USB 1.0 support) and rebooted, the problem disappeared. Reconnecting the drive made the problem appear again. Since there wasn't any process that was causing the CPU load, I think it was something related to the drive at the driver level.
Now the drive is connected to my desktop and seems to be working just fine. I'll just have to remember not do check the drive for errors. Backup storage you can't check for errors makes no sense but 250G is 250G.
It turns out XP on the laptop is still slowed down and useless. It just starts up at the normal speed IF the Maxtor drive is not connected. Looks like a torturous path of try-this and try-that and ultimately reinstall or reformat awaits me. If I do have to reformat, I might turn it into a Linux laptop. Getting too tired of Windows these days.